Q&A with Karl Sharman on Talent Management and Recruiting High Performing Teams, from Soccer to Cybersecurity

12.13.21 | Karl Sharman | Blog Post

Karl Sharman is a Talent Management Consultant at Forgepoint Capital. Learn more about his background here.

Karl, you have such a unique background that started back in England, working with an array of football (“soccer”) clubs. Can you tell us about your journey and how has that influenced what you do now?
I’ll use the term soccer for our North American audience. Soccer was all I wanted to do, and I earned that dream by scaling quickly and becoming the youngest Head of Recruitment in the professional leagues at the time. It was an amazing experience, that at times I still miss however, I arrived in cybersecurity in 2017 with a focus on something that is bigger than myself to protect national security and the people within that construct.

Cybersecurity is very similar to the soccer industry. Not many people believe me when I say that, however a week is a long time in both industries due to how quickly it can all change. Another is that attack is often the best form of defense, while time kills opportunity which is why I’ve always focused on speed and proactiveness in everything I do. Finally, talent is your product as it is what will get you the result which will ultimately provide a legacy which is something I instill into every team I have built.

What will you be doing here at Forgepoint?
As part of the Forgepoint’s partnership with global staffing and recruiting firm Stott and May, I will be driving all things talent management for the fund. This is broken down through short, medium, and long-term initiatives we will undertake to ultimately benefit the Forgepoint portfolio in their individual objectives, while supporting the wider industry in protecting the digital future. Talent acquisition and retention are at the forefront of all business risk right now and many early-stage startups will struggle to scale due to the ever-growing shortages across industries. This is even more dire in cybersecurity: I believe that the scarcity of qualified talent to innovate in the face increasingly sophisticated attacks will be a major challenge for startups over the next decade, if not longer. Therefore, it is vital that at Forgepoint, we establish a recruiting engine and infrastructure along with a culture of excellence to enable our portfolio founders and companies to succeed.

How would you describe the state of the talent market in cybersecurity?
Not ideal: despite widespread discussions across the industry for over the past ten years, the talent gap has increased year on year. Depending on which resource you reference, the global talent shortage in cybersecurity can range from 600,000 openings to up to 4 million.

Then the sector itself struggles with the fundamentals of recruiting and talent management, resulting in a number of vulnerabilities (like breaches, largely due to human factors). These include a lack of understanding about the market, poorly written job descriptions, improperly structured interview processes, and failing to be proactive in talent acquisition and talent management. Nowadays, we live in a candidate-led market, which means the startups must stay top of mind among their top targets and invest in candidate marketing to compete for the best. In 2021, it has been taking about from 50 to 90 days on average to close a hire, and I do not see the process and timeframe getting much easier and faster in 2022, especially without the right strategies and tactics in place. The only way we move forward on the state of talent is by taking a collaborative approach across the government, the private sector, and educational institutions to ensure more people gain exposure to cybersecurity, obtain the proper training, and find pathways to quickly and easily join the industry through meaningful career opportunities..

What are success factors in building out high performing teams?
There are many factors, which is why I focus on marginal gains within many of the teams I have built. Some of those factors within the jigsaw puzzle include grit, cognitive diversity, inclusivity, personal and team objectives leading to the same outcome, the right platform to enable people to be successful, continuous learning, identity, legacy, trust, and communication.

Let’s focus on leadership specifically. How do you help CEOs round out their management teams?
It’s a highly collaborative process. First, we work together to identify the key performers and the gaps in their firm that may be harming their growth. For high performing teams, we look to build around the high performers. For the gaps, we look to hire for the next 12-18 months. From there, we can develop the processes to enable the CEO to execute at speed on these key hires. This includes defining the role and providing examples of people who have done this successfully. The benefit for the CEO to use a resource like me, is that I have “multiple role experience” meaning I have run and seen a variety of executive searches and an array of candidates for a range of companies in cybersecurity.

How about earlier in career talent – how do you identify and cultivate recent graduates and rising stars?
This raises yet another problem that contributes to the talent gap: actually many people want to get into cybersecurity, but there is a serious scarcity of entry level positions.. I believe this is because of a lack of understanding on where talent comes from and how it can be nurtured and cultivated early on. There are very few colleges that offer hands-on experience and critical industry connections to make individuals successful from day one. To build a high performing team, you need cognitive diversity and culture of continuous learning which recent graduates are able to provide, along with their hard work and high energy. These factors bring substantial value to any startup in the cyber space. You need to surround early in career talent with experienced hires to ensure the “rookies” keep learning, and you can retain them as they grow.

To identify rising stars, I look for multiple factors which include quick promotions, referrals, speaking circuits, strong social skills, seeking what is next, a willingness to continuously learn and improve, and the quality of their growing networked.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Finding top tier talent to help solve each company’s hardest challenges is a real win; although this may not be as gratifying as seeing one of my professional league teams win on the soccer field, that sense of personal fulfilment is there. The other one is helping people meet their career and personal goals with finding them their next job and supporting their career progression.

What skills are necessary to succeed at what you do now?
There’s so many that I didn’t know early on, but the stand outs consist of being a strong communicator while having grit, strong negotiation skills, the ability to build relationships, and understanding when big picture thinking is necessary. With so many competing priorities and the pace and demands of people movements today, it’s also important to be highly motivated, and strong at time management.

What advice would you give to someone looking to join the cybersecurity industry?
I have three key messages for someone looking to join the cybersecurity industry. The first is you can never stop learning, so always be inquisitive. Secondly, find mentors to learn from and meet the next person in the industry as a way of continuously building. Finally, remember there is power in a follow up, so never take no the first time.

If you weren’t a global talent recruiter and advisor, what would you be doing?
That’s easy. Working in Formula 1!

Thank you for reading. Have a question for Karl? Get in touch: [email protected].

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